Little Edie Beale from 'Grey Gardens'
In HBO's Grey Gardens, airing Saturday, April 18, she pulls off an amazing feat: She's convincing as an 18-year-old and as a 56-year-old. As wonderful as her acting is, she credits the makeup artists, wig makers and costumers who take her from a glamorous debutante in old New York to a very strange hermit in East Hampton.
Playing Little Edie Beale to Jessica Lange's Big Edie in the mother/daughter saga, Barrymore studied her real subject, who was a cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. The Edies were the subjects of a famed 1973 documentary and a Broadway play.
Little Edie had alopecia, a condition that makes hair fall out. For much of her life, she covered her head with turbans and scarves fastened with a brooch but also with towels and sweaters. She was a fashion iconoclast.
"She wore a shirt as a skirt," Barrymore says. "And safety pins were her best friend. She took a pair of curtains and made them into pants."
This movie had everyone involved with it a bit obsessed.
"It's one of those projects as a costume designer you would just kill to do," says Catherine Thomas, the costumer.
"It is interesting because we had the documentary footage; we could reference what was interesting," Thomas says. "What was challenging were the days leading up to that point. We had photos of Little Edie."
As a young woman entering high society in the 1930s, Little Edie wore those dreamy gowns that seem lighter than air and float rather than cling. Those that were available were not in good enough condition, so Thomas asked Rosi Zingales at Studio Rouge in New York and Toronto's Seamless Costumes to sew the gowns.
Thomas scoured boutiques and the Internet for accessories. She found jewelry and clothes at New York Vintage and 10ft. Single by Stella Dallas in Brooklyn, and at Right to the Moon Alice she also bought clothes and shoes.
"Women have always worn scarves on their heads," Thomas says. "Whether Little Edie influenced that directly, I don't know. I think why people are so fascinated by her is more her overall sense of fashion and self, more of how she presented herself as an overall package."
Despite that some could perceive Little Edie's life as one not lived fully, Barrymore came to adore her and her look.
"I loved playing with it," Barrymore says of the fashion. "I loved how she would wear a dress upside down; her lack of rules made her the fashion icon she is."